The term cult film is really overused. Some claim that Reservoir Dogs or The Usual Suspects are cult films when they are really just critically appreciated successful films with a cool cast and/or soundtrack. A cult is something that demands devotion, even blind faith, and, by its nature, is often a well kept secret. 1985s Restless Natives is the kind of film that gathers followers who display such devotion.

Which may seem odd as it appears at first to be a fairly undemanding comedy. But sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on why a film works and becomes more than the constituent parts would suggest. Its main attribute is a quotable, genuinely funny, and sometimes moving script that never dips in quality. The secondary characters, such as the young police men, the blackmailing children and Iain Macoll’s demented gangster Nigel, all play their part and repeated viewing gives up some of the more subtle gags that may have been missed first time round.

The lead actors are mostly unknown outside of aficionado’s of Scottish TV and theatre of the 1980s. They are Vincent Freill (Diane’s father in Trainspotting), Joe Mullaney (who I seem to remember from Scottish Socialist Party party political broadcasts and an early 80s drama called Maggie) and Teri Lally (from the William Low adverts and a cameo in Comfort and Joy). Supporting them are some better known names including Mel Smith, Ned Beatty and, with one of the worst Scottish accents I have ever had the privilege to witness, Bernard Hill as Vincent’s father. It’s spectacular.

This is one of those films that I watched over and over with my brother when we were in our teens and could, to this day, recite it word for word. If you haven’t seen Restless Natives then you must track down a copy of this film, particularly if you are a lover of the work of Bill Forsyth. Here’s a couple of clips to give you a taste:

Restless Natives


Big Country – Restless Natives


An aspect of the film that is interesting is the way that it was obviously cut to appeal to an overseas market. Look out for the random shots of waterfalls, rolling hills and bubbling brooks. It’s as if it has been made in conjunction with the Scottish Tourist Board.

But such things don’t diminish the film, and even if you have a fear of Big Country, who provide the soundtrack, then I would ask you to overcome it as their music makes perfect sense in this context. You may even reconsider their output. It’s not all bagpipe sounding guitars as some people seem to think. Restless Natives comes with as close a guarantee of a good time as I can possibly give. It’s now available on DVD. Every home should have one.


Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appear on the first Monday of every month.

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